Monday, December 30, 2013

This Past Year

The new year is just about here and now is good time to look back over the accomplishments of the past year. I have had the opportunity to learn many new skills, climb out of my comfort zone and create some great memories with my family. Here is list of some of the things that happened around here this year.

1. This blog was started so that I could keep up with all the things we have done.
2. I started learning how to crochet and made some wonderful Christmas presents.


3. I made some homemade candles for the first time in years from old bits of used up candles.


4. The garden was expanded. It was in this area that I learned the most. We had bugs and animal problems all season that really put us to the test.


5. A fall garden was attempted for the time. Cabbage bugs pretty much destroyed everything no matter how diligent I was with picking them off.


6. Most of the plants in the garden were started by seed. This was the first year that we used seeds rather than transplants purchased at the garden center. The kids were so excited with each little bit of green that poked up out of the dirt. I felt great knowing that I could grow things on my own.


7. Canning. Never canned a jar in my life before this year. I was scared and excited at the same time. We can salsa, tomatoes, peaches, radishes, pickles and peppers. 


8. We grew watermelon. Heirloom watermelon. The biggest watermelon ever. Well maybe not ever but these things were huge. These melons fed the whole neighborhood and several family members.


9. I learned how to make homemade bread. The family learned to like it. Now if only I could make it happen more often.


Over all we learned a lot this year. I learned a lot and share the results with my family. Our lives have slowed down even though we are always moving about and being busy. There is a contentment that has surrounded my soul and warmed my heart thanks to our new outlook on life. What a difference a year can make and I am excited for what the new year will bring. 



Thursday, December 26, 2013

Keeping Up with the...

Christmas was a success in our household. They day was filled with gifts and homemade foods including pumpkin cinnamon rolls, stromboli, and turkey with all the fixings. I managed to stay in my pajamas all day long, it was Christmas after all. Late in the evening I did shower and put a clean pair of pajamas. I felt great to sit around and not really do much of anything. We played games, watched moves, played music together and just hung out in general. Now getting back to real life is a must and unfortunately not everyday is a wear your pj's and play games kind of day. 

Since altering our lifestyle there has been one quote that haunts me. I will be going through my day and it will pop into my head it makes me feel guilty. The quote is, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” I try so very hard to live a life that can be reflected in this quote but it is so hard for me. Sometimes it is just easier to go to the store and get what I need and move through my day. The store is two minutes away, maybe 10 if I walk and more often than not spending a couple dollars is no issue. Take bread for example. I could get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning to get it prepped before the kids wake and then spend the rest of the morning finishing up the loaves in between the other household tasks. Or I can just run to the store and within a half hour at most have a loaf of bread, I would go as far as to say I could have a fresh loaf of bread baked by a local baker with quality ingredients in that period of time. So I guess that is what I struggle with the most, the desire to be this awesome homesteading, homemade marvel but I can't even force myself to make bread every week.  I have these huge goals for our home in the future and my husband, bless his soul, is on board with all of them but when I get hung up on the simple tasks I feel like our goals become that much more unobtainable. 


The internet does not help this feeling of inadequacy. I look to a lot of blogs to learn new tips, tricks, and find people who think like me, it can be inspiring. On the other hand when these blogs are a source of income for the writers, some of the posts almost become inconceivable to readers. I am always left with the impression that they jump out of bed before the sun, no matter how cold, to milk the cow, bake their bread and cook breakfast for their kids. Then they write their blogs, sew a dress, make butter, and make a fabulous home cooked dinner then sit by the fire knitting until bedtime. Yes, I know that in real life the aforementioned routine might be completely fictional yet believable due to the disconnect of the internet with reality but dang namit I really want to be like that awesome homesteading marvel. So tomorrow I am going to get up a few minutes early and start that bread! Or maybe I'll just try to get through another day hoping that the dog stops trying to attack her new bed, the kids fight only a little bit, and the house is some semblance of clean by the time my husband walks through the door.  Simple living is similar to pulling a thistle from the garden. With time and patience the thistle is entirely removed and the garden able to flourish yet by trying to remove the weed too fast the roots snap from the rest of the shoot allowing the thistle to continue growing. Simple living= time + patience - keep up with others. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

Our Tree from Last Year 

Good morning, it is Christmas Eve! Our home is buzzing with excitement and we have everything all prepared so we get to just hang around the house all day. I love Christmas time so much. The lights, decorations and food make every day leading up to Christmas Day feel special. An added bonus which is making me very excited this year is that for the first time in years I will not have to go into work on Christmas Day. I look forward to spending the day together in our warm house sharing in the excitement of open gifts and then having a wonderful spread of food to share with just the four of us. It will be a day were getting dressed is not required and the most important thing to do is enjoy each others company. No stressing about cooking big meal, no maintaining a perfectly clean home and no driving from here to there. The kids don't have to get stuffed into their good holiday clothes and be on their best behavior as they have been for weeks on end for all the Christmas parties, dinners, and visits. I love entertaining, especially during the holiday season. There is nothing like gathering everyone around a table and sharing a big meal and memories of Christmases past and making new memories to look back on but December is a marathon month. It is always important to me to take Christmas Day to ourselves and get our priorities in line again, to rest and recuperate. For four weeks we have lovingly given food, company, gifts and time to all of those around us that we love and care for. Now it is time for us to relax.

Homemade gifts by my daughter

I hope that everyone is able to enjoy some down time this holiday and spend time with those that they love. Create wonderful memories and enjoy that wonderful feeling that is in the air on Christmas.

Merry Christmas from Such a Lively Life!

Monday, December 23, 2013

5 Days of Cookies (Day 5)

The last day! Well, I showed that I am not able to commit myself to a blog series that lasts several days, without prior planning and scheduling. It didn't help that I chose the week before Christmas and the same week as the family Christmas party. I am sorry for my terrible ability to keep up and hope that you will stick with me as I attempt to salvage the series here with the very last cookie recipe. I thought very hard about the last cookie I would share and decided that I really wanted to share a cookie bar recipe. It is terribly bad for you, yet so rich and yummy that it is irresistible. Without further  adieu I present....




Seven Layer Magic Cookie Bars:
Ingredients:
1/2 cup margarine, melted
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
1 14-oz can of sweetened condensed milk
Directions:
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Pour melted margarine into a 13x9 inch baking pan. Spread graham cracker crumbs evenly across the pan. Add semisweet chocolate chips and butterscotch chips. Then pour condensed milk covering entirely.  Top with coconut and then walnuts   Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the top is a light golden brown.


Day 4

I am rapidly falling behind on my cookie recipe sharing as we have been busy baking them in our home. The cookie I chose for today is a simple sugar cookie. This is such a fun cookie to make because they can be decorated so many different ways. Add sprinkles or icing or candies. What ever you have lying around that would make a good cookie topper would go great. The recipe itself is very simple and mixes up in about 2 minutes.

Oh the Joys of Holiday Baking

Expert Cookie Maker at Work

Sugar Cookies

1 cup of butter softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
Cream together butter and sugar
Add egg and vanilla
Combine flour and baking powder in separate bowl
Add dry ingredients to wet
Mix until combined
Divide dough into 4 equal parts and shape into disks
Cover the four disks and refrigerate for about an hour
Roll out dough on a flat surface sprinkled with powdered sugar to prevent sticking until about 1/3- 1/4 inch thickness.
Transfer to greased cookie sheet and bake until lightly browned about 5-8 minutes
Decorate!

My mom always rolled our sugar cookies out on flour. This year somewhere I heard about using powdered sugar and gave that a try. It added an extra layer of flavor to the cookie that I really liked so I will use powdered sugar from now on.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

5 Days of Cookies (Day3)

It would not be Christmas without having snickerdoodle cookies on a platter. This recipe came from my mom's copy of Joy of Cooking. She tweaked it a bit to make it her own. This is one of the cookies that my mom loves. I remember my dad used to tease her about her love for snickerdoodle cookies and she used to tease him about his endless quest to perfect the holiday eggnog. She hated his eggnog and he hated her snickerdoodle cookies. Last year was the first year that I baked these for my own family and friends. Many of the people who had some were so happy to have one of their favorite cookies that seems to have fallen by the wayside. This is a fun recipe for the kids to help with as this is another recipe they can use their hands to make a dough ball. 



Snickerdoodle Cookies

1/2 c butter
1/2 c shortening
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 c flour
2 t cream of tartar
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt

2 T sugar
2 t ground cinnamon 

Directions

Preheat over to 400 degrees F
Cream together butter shortening, sugar, eggs and vanilla
In a separate bowl combine flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt.
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients
Shape dough into 1 1/4 ball with hands
Roll into remaining sugar and cinnamon 
Place 3 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet
Bake 8-10 minutes until lightly browned  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

5 Days of Cookies (Day2)

In addition to these wonderful Chocolate Chip cookies, we also make a Peanut Butter cookies for Christmas. These cookies were made in my home as a child for me to take to parties or school for snacks. I loved rolling the dough and then using the fork to give the cookie it's classic criss-cross design. Nowadays with so many children experiencing allergies to nuts we are unable to use this cookies as a contribution to kids parties. Instead I make them at Christmas time so that we can enjoy them at home. Oh, and I also make them at this time of the year so I can give them to a co-worker of mine who tried to take the whole box home for herself when I took them to work for the first time. These are a fun cookie to make with the kids as there is really a lot of hands of cookie forming that they can do. Drop cookies tend to be a little difficult for the small guy but he can roll these into a ball is no problem and the smashing with the fork is his favorite part.



I don't have the original recipe from my childhood but I found a close match several years ago. So that is the recipe I will be sharing. The original source is here.



Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar packed
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
Cream together butter, peanut butter and sugars. Add in eggs and mix.
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and until thoroughly mixed.
Refrigerate for 1 hour
Roll into one inch balls a place on baking sheet flatten each ball with a fork making a criss-cross pattern.
Bake at 375 for about 10 minutes.

Some of my own notes: I use salted butter. It is usually what I have on hand, doesn't bother me.

I almost never sift the dry ingredients. I have tried it when I first got my sifter and it didn't seem worth
the effort but if you are a sifter go ahead and give it a go.

I never refrigerate the dough. By the time I make these cookies I want them right away and I am not waiting an hour. I find that the just made dough rolls easier into ball shape. If I did follow the rules 3 other people would be digging the dough out of the bowl in the refrigerator while leaving the door open.

I use all kinds of peanut butter creamy, crunchy, natural and the cookies are always awesome.

Lastly, I don't measure my sugar perfectly some times I go by how sweet I  want the cookies to be. I always use somewhere around 3/4-ish of a cup of granulated sugar and a very lightly packed cup-ish of brown sugar. As you can tell I am not a very technical baker.

I like to cook these until they are lightly browned. I transfer them to wire rack to let them cool and store them in a sealed container with the scrap end of the bread loaf. The bread gets all dry and crunchy while keeping the cookies soft and wonderful. I use this little trick for all of my cookies.

Monday, December 16, 2013

5 Days of cookies

One of the items on this weeks to do list is the annual Christmas cookie bake-a-thon. Over the next 5 days I will share a recipe for one of my families favorite Christmas cookies. The recipes I use are handed down and they are very basic. They each feature real ingredients from scratch. That's right real butter, real eggs, real treats for the holiday season. The first recipe I am sharing is my go to cookie recipe. It is a basic chocolate chip cookie. We tend to make these any old time that we are in the mood for a cookie and the kids are always requesting these. My mom found this recipe probably about 20 years ago on the back of an off brand bag of chocolate chips (I don't have any idea what brand it was) and it has been one of my favorites ever since.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup of butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups flour
1 to 2 cups chocolate chips (semi-sweet for me)

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.
Cream together first 5 ingredients.
In separate bowl combine baking soda, salt and flour.
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients.
Add chocolate chips.
Drop 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet using a teaspoon.
Bake at 375 for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned.
Makes about 5 dozen cookies

We change the recipe up depending on our moods. More often than not I use 1 cup of chocolate chips rather than 2. Sometimes with we throw in chocolate covered candies instead of chips or walnuts. These cookies without a doubt always end up being set out on Christmas Eve for Santa. I think they may be his favorite too.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Kids at Christmas

Christmas preparations are in full swing in our household. We have been crafting and decorating for weeks. The family will be having a Christmas dinner in our home so the menu has been planned and any additional food has been purchased. We are planning to serve a lot of things that we grew and put up over the summer to share with our family. The cards have been mailed. It is such a busy time but we are enjoying the season so much. It is hard to keep grounded and keep things in check while those around us spend money like it is water. The roads are crowded and so are the parking lots, I try to avoid both as much as possible. The kids have been carefully selecting the items that they want on their Christmas lists and amazingly the lists have been very short (5 or 6 items each) and humble. There are some toys on the lists but thankfully my children have avoided being sucked in by marketing and have chosen items they truly want rather than the seasons hottest toys. I leave the toys to Santa. The kids know all year long when they want a toy that they should just store it in their memory for Christmas time because I very rarely, if ever buy toys. I tend to be the parent who gets all necessities for the kids like socks, pajamas, underwear, and sports items. Oh, and books, I LOVE books. New books, 2nd hand books, big books, small books, fiction, non-fiction.... I could buy and buy but I control my self. Honestly, these kids have such imaginations that what ever they are given will most likely be turned into something else sooner or later. They can turn anything into a toy, they are very resourceful.

A homemade "loom" for rubber band bracelets

A sword 

With a world that seems to spin out of control around me for the whole month I keep pausing to take in what is around me and focus on what really matter this time of year especially when it come to the kids. For years now we have been slowly building our own family traditions as we go. We always put up the tree on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and let the kids choose what ornaments will go on the tree and let them hang them while we dance around to Christmas music. The kids love to hang all of the ornaments they have created and they really like all of the wooden ornaments from my childhood. In December we bake cookies and go to the local park to look at the lights.


Little Guys ornament he made last year.

Wooden ornament (a family favorite).

We create a lot of memories without even realizing we are doing so until the next year comes around and the kids keep saying, "Remember when..."  and "I can't wait to do _______ again". While helping out in my oldest daughters class yesterday I saw posters the kids made displaying the most important thing about Christmas. Some of the answers: my elf on the shelf, toys, Santa, gifts. My kid wrote being with  family and friends. You get it little one, you really do! Only one other child had an awesome answer, Jesus, straight from her heart.

I think this may be the last year with my oldest believing in Santa. So many kids her  age have already decided that they no longer believe and are more than anxious to spread the news with their peers. Santa has always been a wonderful addition to the holiday in our home. We'll see what happens. I know this post maybe a little hokey and might seem like we are living an ideal Christmas movie life. Nothing could be further from the truth. The post comes from a moment when I forced my self to give up on the holiday that the commercials tell me I should have and look at all the things that are happening around me. I took a reflective look of our life at Christmas time. Our tree is overfilled with ornaments in some spots with huge empty areas in between. The ornaments themselves are old, chipped, and painted by the unsteady hands of children. The songs we sing are often sung at the top of our lungs and way off tune and the cookies usually include at least one batch that are too dark. During our trip to see the lights we are freezing despite being bundled up and you know what? We love it all... eventually because as my smart kiddo said, " The most important thing about Christmas is being with family and friends".




Black Fox Homestead




Tuesday, December 10, 2013

At it again



                                               

More snow this morning. So far we have had more snow in the past two days than we had all winter last year. I had a feeling in the early fall that this winter would have either a lot of little snow storms or a few major storms. There was something about the way the leaves were falling from the trees. The weather this fall was mild and the vegetable plants lasted longer than usual but the trees seemed to know what was in store as the leaves jumped from the trees. I am no weather person so we shall see as the winter goes on if it really is a rough winter for us.


Today's snow is the light fluffy kind that clings to everything it touches turning our small suburban neighborhood into a true winter wonderland. The trees and bushes look like they were painted white. The neighbors were out again in full force shoveling snow and lending each other a hand. The kids were "helpful" as they tried to help clear side walks with gardening trowels or any shovel they could plead an adult into giving them.


Once the work was done the warm house seemed to be calling us in. After a quick attempt at a snow man we headed in for some warm hot chocolate and bowls of soup. There is nothing like a snow day where there is nothing to do and no where to go. A check of the mail revealed my favorite seed catalog.  The Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Don't you love when your favorite seed catalog arrives? I love this catalog as it is filled with colorful photos, unusual seed varieties and recipes. I can't wait to pour over the pages picking out what I want to grow in our garden this year and get ideas for future years.


 Just when I feel like I am settling into winter this catalog is a reminder that before long time will march on and a new season will come. The cold will be replaced by warmth and the garden trowel will replace the snow shovel in my hand. Thus is the life of gardener always looking ahead and planning for the future.

How is the weather where you are?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Snow


We had a snow day yesterday. It was supposed to be an inch tops according to the forecast but we have  about 8 inches of the white stuff in the yard. We were out on the roads during the worst part of it (thank goodness for four wheel drive). We thought that it would stop before it got too bad but it just kept coming. The kids enjoyed playing outside once we were home and I kept my thermos filled with hot chocolate to keep the family warm in between bouts of being outside. The neighbors were out in full force helping each other dig out. I am so thankful for the wonderful people who live around us. It is nice to have a group of people who help each other and take care of each other.

This snow fall also means the end of my garden. With warmer temps this week and a little rain I uncovered the vegetables and of course in my complete lack of preparation I failed to cover  them before the storm. So now they are buried in snow and unprotected. Lesson learned. While growing your own food you can't afford to be lazy or forgetful you have to be prepared and always thinking ahead. It is hard to adapt to that mentality when there is always a safety net, in this case a grocery store that will be able to provide us with all the items this lapse in judgement cost us.

While we had snow here other areas in the country were facing terrible ice storms and even worse snow conditions than we saw. I hope that those people stay warm and safe.